"Hiya!” The UK based upbeat rock group, Sharp Practise, greeted the world with the title of their first album when it came out in 1999. The reaction to it was much better than expected. Many radio stations from the UK, Europe and Australia played songs from the album and the band recruited many faithful fans in the process. ‘Eve Got Adam’, the first track from the album, was chosen for a compilation for Fila’s sportswear stores and entered many music charts. Not bad for a self-financed album which it is claimed was recorded simply as an attempt to display what lay inside the heart of the band. The result definitely overcame the wildest expectations of Nigel Clothier, the lead singer, keyboardist and the main man behind the band. Now three years on he has been recording a new album, ‘Radiocity’. A lot of things have changed since ‘Hiya’ including almost the whole line-up of the group. We will hopefully find out how the new group sounds later this summer when ‘Radiocity’is due for release. As a preview, however, I had a great chance to talk to Nigel and new Sharp Practise vocalist Anna Mee about the band and their collaboration as they invited me to New Rising studio in Colchester where they were in the final stages of recording the album.

The very first steps towards recording ‘Radiocity’ were taken two years ago when Nigel started writing new songs and rehearsing them with the band.“When we started making the new record we were working with the same people who performed on 'Hiya'” reveals Nigel, sitting on a sofa in the lounge at New Rising, while Anna is in the studio recording some of her vocals for ‘Radiocity’. “As time moved on though everything got more serious, especially in regard to finding people that would not only record the album but would also go out and play gigs and tour.”

Despite earning a big audience in Europe and Australia because of the human element of its songs, Sharp Practise never toured with the 12 song 'Hiya'.

“My voice also isn’t as good as it used to be” continues Nigel “And so we decided to change the direction a bit and decided that the lyrics would be just as suitable for a female singer. We had Katharine Crowe at the time, but her solo album had just come out then and she decided to concentrate fully on her solo career rather than to stay with us.” It was clear that the band urgently needed a new singer. Nigel placed a few adverts in various music papers and waited for replies. “I saw an advert in ‘The Stage’ newspaper" says Anna who has joined us, having finished recording for today. “They put an advert in that saying that they wanted a singer and I sent off my demo. I was fortunate to get a reply from them. They sent me 3 tracks to learn as well so I knew what type of music they played. And then they asked me to come to an audition.”

“The interest in becoming our lead singer was huge” says Nigel. “But once we saw Anna we knew she was the right person.” Anna had also had some previous experience in singing in a band in Cardiff, her hometown, and had also previously worked with a producer there on some of her own material. “I really enjoy singing in Sharp Practise.” Anna concludes. “I like it because the music has more depth. The stuff which is out there at the moment is all pop music, but there is more substance to this, so you can put a lot more into it.”

Once Sharp Practise had a new singer, other changes followed. “Mark Daghorn is producing the album” says Nigel “He also played the bass on 'Hiya', but spent very little time playing the bass on this one and did far more work as a producer and engineer, so he decided to sack himself from the band!” After this other members of Sharp Practise also slowly began to leave the band as well and so Nigel had to completely reconstruct the whole line-up which, while it was at one level unfortunate, was also a blessing as it gave him the chance to recruit people who he knew would be totally dedicated to the band. As a result of placing an advert in NME, he found Simon J. Pinto (guitar) who later recommended both Simon Horn (bass) and Dave Levin (drums), and so the new Sharp Practise was born.

While ‘Hiya’ was self-financed ‘Radiocity’ will be coming out on Positive Records, a label based in Colchester. The recording of the new album started over a year ago and since then has gone through many changes. “We thought we had it finished twice and we are on the third go now” Nigel reflects. “But it’s good because every time we work on it we can get even better material than before. 'Hiya' was very much about testing ourselves, about finding out what sort of material we could produce and what people thought. And from their reaction we got a much more defined idea about where we wanted to go with the band. We moved away a little from hard rocking songs and made a lot more use of keyboard programming.”

Nigel writes all the material the band plays. The thought of a man writing lyrics for a female vocal might sound somewhat strange and perhaps a little unnatural.

“Actually it’s surprising how easily I have found I can write songs for a female singer” disagrees Nigel. “There are differences, of course, in perspective and setting the songs in the right key for Anna, but having said that I don’t think there is all that much of a difference between male and female vocals."

“There are things that you have to look at though and think "Would the woman I know really say that ?" he continues. "It’s more a question of rephrasing thoughts, and sometimes I change a line because a woman would not say it that way.” The other important thing about lyrics is that the singer should understand its meaning and the feelings they express."

“We discuss the songs with Anna and how we want her to sing them” he claims. “Anna and I sit down a lot and talk about songs and what feelings she should be expressing and whose perspective it’s from.”

“Yeah,” agrees Anna, “I think it’s working quite well.”

All the lyrics that Nigel writes are based on his own personal experience and either express his own feelings or incorporating Nigel's influences of Tom Petty and Ric Ocasek into the songwriting process, involve an element of storytelling.

“‘How Katie Feels’ is about one of my school friends” says Nigel, talking about one of the songs on ‘Radiocity'. "It connects to the New York disaster on the 11th September when many people died just going to work. One of my friends’ father, who was a fireman, also went to work one day when she was a child and never came back. Those things happen every day and I think it should not be ignored just because it happens to only one person. For my friend it was the worst thing that could have ever happened to her."

Listeners are, however, promised that there will be one or two uplifting songs on ‘Radiocity’ as well. “The final running order will try to make the album a journey through the day" Nigel reveals. "With the high energy and chaos of the morning eventually ending up in the chill-out of the night. Some of the more lively tracks will kick the album off, then we'll have a little mellow siesta before picking up the pace for the thrill of the evening and we'll finally cool down again at around midnight."

With regard to the new album, one question still remains and that’s: “Why was the album titled ‘Radiocity’? “It’s just a word I came up with and it sort of stuck with me” explains Nigel. “It gives the impression of some kind of sound or force coming out over the airwaves and permeating the atmosphere, hopefully a bit like our songs working their way across from us to the listeners.”

The musicians have worked very hard over the space of the last two years on the recording of ‘Radiocity’ and on polishing its sound. Once ‘Radiocity’ ends up in fans’ homes the band is determined to get out and play as many gigs as possible.“We want to get the band together and get it tight so we can move on to something more serious” says Nigel, “We also want to see the reaction of people to the new material.” “I’m really looking forward to when everything is finished” enthuses Anna. “And just to be able to get on with it and to play people our music. That’s what I think will be great - when people will actually be able to hear it. I just can’t wait to get out there and just play.”

“The live side for me…” Ponders Nigel. “Yeah, it will be interesting when we get out to see how well we can do. It’s going to be different for me to be the guy in the back playing a keyboard and supporting everybody else. It will be a new experience but I’m quite looking forward to it.""We’re hoping to get on some of the smaller festival bills,” he carries on. “And also to put a UK tour together to coincide with the release of the album and to play as many places as we can. So if you want a band who can play melodic pop and a bit of rock for about 60 minutes just let us know!”

Sharp Practise are hoping to do some shows in Australia, Sweden, France, Greece as well.“We just want to go where the audience is.” laughs Anna.

If you are interested in learning more about Sharp Practise and their music, there is more detailed information on their new web site on www.sharppractise.cjb.net which is run by one of their fans.“In the summer of 2001 we were invited to go on ‘Ground Zero TV’ in Australia and also to play some of our stuff” says Nigel. "In the audience there was sitting this guy called Mike Barnett, a fan of the band, who designs web sites. And he offered to do a web site for us. So I sent him some material and he did a great job and has been doing it since then. There are pictures and sound clips and it’s very informative. We are more then happy with it.”

And finally what are the dreams and the hopes of the group? "We just want to sell enough records to have enough money so that we can carry on “ says Nigel modestly “And to have a comfortable number of fans who want to hear us, a regular income, a good solid band and most importantly to keep making the music that we like.”

I’m sure Nigel will be always making music whatever will happen. Let’s hope his new band will really stick together this time.

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